5 of the Best 100% Merlots for Fall

The Much-Maligned Merlot is Having its Day!

Remember when it was savaged in 2005 in the Academy Award-winning movie Sideways? Well, Merlot is enjoying a slow-burn comeback, although many connoisseurs have never deserted it.

Merlot is a friendly, easy-access wine that pairs well with light meats and roasted veggies. And it’s popular for a reason. It’s much more versatile than, say, a Syrah with its heavy tannins, or the delicate etherealness of a Pacific Northwest Pinot Noir. This is a wine perfect for those random holiday get-togethers when you don’t quite know what wine to bring. It is a wine ripe with history and, if you eschew its mass-market versions, world-class.

The Merlot is a dark blue, almost black thin-skinned grape, which makes its name unsurprising. Merlot in French means “Little Blackbird.” Merlots tend to fruity notes, light tannins, and medium earthy notes. It is used to soften Cabernets and is one of the major varieties used in Bordeaux. In fact, it’s the second most planted grape in the world.

Many wines labeled Merlot include other varieties. In the United States, as long as they have 75 percent or more Merlot, they can be labeled thus. But International Merlot Day is on November 7th. So, we’ve put together a selection of 100 percent Merlot wines from different regions and varying price points. We hope they will spark your interest in the world’s most maligned and misunderstood wine.

1. California’s Duckhorn Vineyards

Most of their award-winning Merlots include a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. But Duckhorn does have a 100 percent Merlot that tops our list. The 2017 Atlas Peak Napa Valley Merlot is grown in the high-altitude Atlas Peak area. It runs up to 10 degrees cooler than other parts of Napa. This gives the wine a darker color and just a tad more tannic acid for a dryer, mineral finish.

Duckhorn Vineyards is known as “North America’s greatest Merlot vineyard.” And it has an incredible selection of world-class Merlots ranging from the low $80 range to low thousands for 6L etched editions.

2. Castello di Ama Vineyard, Tuscany

Since 1985, Castillo di Ama’s “first purebred Tuscan Merlot” has been winning awards. Its 2016 vintage received 100 Points from Vinous and 94 points from Wine Spectator (which noted it would reach its peak in 2022 – 2023).

It is a deep red with hints of violet and a spicy aroma complemented by the scent of blackberries and juniper. Like any good Merlot, it has a velvety mouthfeel and the tannins are delicate. Unlike some Merlots, this can stand up to beef. You can find it at online wine retailers for around $225 per bottle.

Vineyard in Chianti, Tuscany, ItalyVineyard in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

3. Old Merelo Merlot Single Vineyard, Chile

Chile can be a bit of a black box. Many of their vineyards are not online, so finding exceptional Chilean wines can be hit or miss. Luckily, James Suckling tasted over a thousand bottles so we wouldn’t have to. The 2019 Old Merelo Merlot Single Vineyard received accolades for its “black fruit, spices and earthy notes on the nose.” Coming in at under $20, it is one of the most affordable 100 percent Merlots on our list.

4. Abeja in Washington’s Columbia River Valley

Abeja’s 2019 Merlot is a ruby-red wonder with cranberry and strawberry fruit notes, hints of cracked pepper, and a silky smooth finish. Although 2019 may be a bit young yet, their 2018, with notes of raspberry and black currants, received 92 points from Wine Enthusiast. And their 2016 received a 94 from Jeb Dunnuck, who described it as having “terrific red currants, blackberries… and cedar herb notes.” No matter which vintage you find, each one is a unique delight.

Abeja is named for what the owners call the hardest workers on their vineyard… the bees.

5. Australia’s Mollydooker Merlot, The Scooter 

From Australia’s McLaren Vale, near the city of Adelaide, comes one of the nicest 100 percent Merlots with a nice price tag, right around $30. Mollydooker is Aussie for being left-handed. And they have a very interesting take on prepping their wines for drinking--a ritual called “The Shake.” Pour it, cap it, shake it, open it, and repeat. It’s all about reducing the nitrogen to return the wine to its original big, round flavor.

The Scooter’s 2018 vintage rated a 91 from Wine Spectator. The review highlighted its “note(s) of black tea complementing the jammy core of blackberry and plum flavors.” Others have praised it for its ruby colors and soft tannins. Definitely, a wine to bring to the party, with the added pleasure of tasting before and after “The Shake.”

To Decant or Not to Decant?

Beautiful Glass DecanterMany of the Merlots on our list are just coming into their prime. To make sure they are at their best, you may want to decant them. There are three reasons to decant:

One: it allows you to separate any sediments from the wine. This is especially for older wines that have sat in their bottles for a number of years.

Two: it oxygenates the wine, which allows the aromas to expand. Much of our enjoyment of food and wine is as much about the smell as it is the taste.

Three: it is a lovely way to serve wine. Bottles are fine, but a good decanter makes a statement. You can find some of our favorite wine decanters here.

Explore and Enjoy

We hope the list above inspires you to renew your acquaintance with this often sidelined and maligned grape. The most important thing is to enjoy your exploration. Merlot has many variations. From blended to 100 percent, cold or warm climates, it allows so much scope for winemakers to create interesting and unique vintages.

So, celebrate International Merlot Day and lift a glass!